Tag Archives: classroom management

Teaching Large Classes

It is common for undergraduate courses, particularly introductory courses, to have a large number of students. Some introductory courses can have as many as 150-300 students in them. Combine this with the fact that it is common for the people with the least amount of teaching experience whether a graduate assistant or new non-tenured professor. This leads to a question of how to handle teaching so many students at one time.

In this post, we will look at some common challenges to teaching a large at the tertiary level. In particular, we will  look at the following.

  • Addressing student engagement
  • Grading assignments
  • Logistics

Student Engagement

Once a class reaches a certain size, it becomes difficult to engage students with discussion and one-on-one  interaction. This leaves a teacher with the most commonly used tool for university teaching, which is lecturing. However, most students find lecturing to be utterly boring and even some teachers find it boring.

Lecturing can be useful but it must be broken up into “chunks.” What this means is that perhaps you lecture for 8-10 minutes then have the students do something such as discuss a concept with their neighbor and then continue lecturing 8-10 minutes. The reason for 8-10 minutes is that is about how long a TV show runs until a commercial. This implies that 8-10 minutes is about how long someone can pay attention.

The during a break in the lecturing, students can teach a neighbor how/explain a concept to a neighbor, they can write a summary of what they just learned, or they can simply discuss what they learn. What happens during this time is up to the teacher but it should provide a way to continue to examine what is being learned without having to sit and only listen to the lecturer.

Grading Assignments

Grading assignments can be a nightmare in a large class. This is particularly true if the assessment has open-ended questions. The problem with open-ended questions is that they cannot be automated and mark by a computer.

If you must have open-ended questions that require humans to grade them here are some suggestions.

  • If the assessment is formative or a stepping stone in a project selective marking may be an option.  Selective marking involves only grade some papers through sampling and then inferring that other students made the same mistakes. You can then reteach the common mistakes to the whole class while saving a large amount of time.
  • Working with your teaching assistants you can have each assistant mark a section of an exam. This helps to spread the work around and prevent students from complaining about one TA who’s grading they dislike.
  • Peer review is another form of formative feedback that can work in large classes.

As mentioned earlier, for assessments that involve one answer, such as in lower level math classes, there are many automated options that are probably already available at your school such as scan tron sheets or online examinations.

Cheating can also be a problem for examines. However, thorough preparation and developing an assignment that is based on what is taught can greatly reduce cheating. Randomizing the exams and seating can help as well. For plagiarism there are many resources available online

Logistics

Common logistical problem includes communication which can be through email or office hours. If a class has over 100 or even 200 students. The demands for personal help can quickly become overwhelming. This can be avoided by establishing clear lines of communication and how you will response.

Hopefully, there is some sort of way for you to communicate with all the students simultaneously such as through a forum or some other way. In this way, you can share the answer to a good question with everyone rather than individually several times.

Office hours can be adjusted by having them in groups rather than one-on-one. This allows the teacher to help several students at once rather than individually. Another idea is to have online office hours. Again you can meet several students at once but with the added convenience of not having to be in the same physical location.

Conclusion

Large classes are a lot of work and can be demanding for even experienced teachers. However, with some basic adjustments it is possible to shoulder this load with care.

Teaching Smaller Class at University

The average teacher prefers small classes. However, there are times when the enrollment in a class that is usually big (however you define this) takes a dip in size and suddenly a class has become “small.” This can be harder to deal with than many people tend to believe. There are some aspects of the teaching and learning experience that need to be adjusted because the original approach is not user-friendly for the small class.

Another time when a person  often struggles with teaching small classes is if they never had the pleasure of experiencing a small class as a student. If your learning experience was a traditional large class lecture style and all of a sudden  you are teaching at a small liberal arts college there will need to be some adjustments too.

In this post, we will look at some pros and cons of teaching smaller classes at the tertiary level. In addition, we will look at some ways to address the challenges of teaching smaller classes for those who have not had this experience.

Pros

With a smaller class size there is an overall decrease in the amount of work that has to be done. This means few assignments to mark, less preparation of materials, etc. In addition, because the class is smaller it is not necessary to be as formal and structured with the class. In other words, there is no need to have routines in place because there is little potential chaos that can ensue if everyone does what they want.

The teaching can also be more personalized. You can adjust content and address individual question much easier than when dealing with a larger class. You can even get to know the students in a much more informal manner that is not possible in a large lecturer hall.

Probably the biggest advantage  for a new teacher is the ability to make changes and adjustments during a semester. A bad teacher in a large class leads to a large problem. However, a bad teacher in a small class is a small problem. If things are not working, it is easier to change things in a small group. The analogy that I like to make is that it is easier to do an u-turn on a bike instead of in a bus. For new teachers who do not quite know how to teach, a smaller class can help them to develop their skills for larger classes

Cons

There are some challenges with small classes especially for people with a large class experience. One thing you will notice when teaching a large class is a lost of energy. If you are used to lecturing to 80 students and suddenly are teaching 12 it can seem as if that learning spark is gone.

The lost of energy can contribute to a lost of discipline. The informal nature of small classes can lead to students having a sense seriousness about the course. In larger classes there is a sense of “sink or swim”.  This may not be the most positive mindset but it helps people to take the learning experience seriously. In smaller classes this can sometimes be lost.

Attendance is another problem. In a large class having several absences is not a big deal. However, if your class is small, several absences is almost like a plague that wipes out a village. You can still teach but nobody is there or the key people who participate in the discussion are not there or there is no one to listen to their comments. This can lead to pressure to cancel class which causes even more problems.

Tips

There are several things that a teacher can do to have success with smaller class sizes. One suggestion is to adjust your teaching style. Lecturing is great for large classes in which content delivery is key. However, in  smaller class a more interact, discussion-like approach can be taken. This helps to bring energy back to the classroom as well as engage the students.

Sometimes, if this is possible, changing from a large room to a smaller one can help to bring back the energy that is lost when a class is smaller. Many times the academic office will put class in a certain classroom regardless of size. This normally no longer a problem with all the advances in scheduling and registration software. However, if you are teaching 10 students in an auditorium perhaps it is possible to find a smaller more intimate location.

Another way to deal with smaller classes is through increasing participation. This is often not practical in a large class. However, interaction can be useful in increasing the engagement.

Conclusion

The size of the class is not as important as the ability of the teacher to adjust to it in order to help students to learn. Small classes need a slightly different approach  than traditional large classes at university. With a few minor adjustments, a teacher can still find ways to help students even if the class is not quite the size everyone was expecting

Classroom Discussion

Classroom discussion is a common yet critical aspect of the educational experience. For many, learning happenings not necessarily when students listen but also when students express their thoughts and opinions regarding a matter. This post will look at reasons for discussion, challenges, and ways to foster more discussion in the classroom.

Reasons for Discussion

Discussion is simply the flow of ideas between individuals and or groups. It is a two-way street in that both sides are actively expressing their ideas. This is how discussion varies from a lecture which is one-sided and most question and answers learning. In a discussion, people are sharing their thoughts almost in a democratic-like style.

Classroom discussion, of course, is focused specifically on helping students learn through interacting with each other and the teacher using this two-way form of communication.

Discussion can aid in the development of both thinking and affective skills. In terms, of thinking, classroom discussion helps students to use thinking skills from the various levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Recalling, comparing, contrasting, evaluating, etc are all needed when sharing and defending ideas.

The affective domain relates to an individual’s attitude and morals. Discussion supports affective development through strengthing or changing a students attitude towards something. For example, it is common for students to hold strong opinions with little evidence. Through discussion, the matter and actually thinking it through critical students can realize that even if their position is not wrong it is not sufficiently supported.

Barriers and Solutions to Classroom Discussion

There are many common problems with leading discussions such as not understanding or failing to explain how a discussion should be conducted, focus on lower level questions, using the textbook for the content of a discussion, and the experience and attitude of the teacher.

Discussion is something everybody has done but may not exactly know how to do well. Teachers often do not understand exactly how to conduct a classroom discussion or, if they do understand it, they sometimes fail to explain it to their students. How to discuss should be at a minimum demonstrated before attempting to do it

Another problem is poor discussion questions.  The goal of a discussion is to have questions in which there are several potential responses. If the question has one answer, there is not much to discuss. Many teachers mistakenly believe that single answer questions constitute a discussion.

The expertise of the teacher and the textbook can also be problems. Students often believe that the teacher and the textbook are always right. This can stifle discussion in which the students need to share contrasting opinions. Students may be worried about looking silly if disagreeing, One way to deal with this is to encourage openness and trying to make content relevant to something it the students lives rather than abstract and objecive.

In addition, students need to know there are no right or wrong answers just answers that are carefully thought out or not thought out. This means that the teacher must restrain themselves from correcting ridiculous ideas if they are supported adequately and show careful thought.

Conclusion

Discussion happens first through example. As the teacher show how this can be done the students develop an understanding of the norms for this activity. The ultimate goal should always be for students to lead discussion independent of the teacher. This is consistent with autonomous learning which is the end goal of education for many teachers.

Classrooom Management at the University Level

Classroom management is different at the university level when compared to K-12. Often the problem is not behavioral in nature (with the exception of cell phones). Rather a lot of the classroom management problems at a university are academically related. In the classroom, the problem is often inattentiveness or idleness. In general, the challenge is completing assignments and being prepared for assessments.

Clear Syllabus

Making sure the syllabus is clear is critical for better performance of students. The syllabus includes the calendar, assignment requirements, rules, etc. When these are laid out in advance expectations are set the students strives to reach.

If the syllabus is unclear it normally means the expectations are unclear and even that the teaching is unclear. Most universities have a standard format for their syllabuses but it is still the teacher responsibility to explain clearly the expectations

Stick to the Syllabus

When the course has begun the commitments and expectations stipulated in the syllabus should be fully committed to. It is better to think of the syllabus as a binding contract between two parties. Once it is distributed and discuss there is nothing left to negotiate.

Related to this is the need to actually enforce rules. If there is a late policy it must be enforced otherwise students will think that you are not serious and the students will push for more concession. This can quickly snowball into chaos. If you actually have a rule against cellphones than it needs to be supported or you will develop students who have a disdain for people who don’t enforce their rules.

Provide Feedback

Perhaps one of the biggest problems in academia is a lack of feedback. Many professors may only have three assignments in a course per year. Given that there is almost always a mid-term and final in many courses and these are primarily summative assessment and not really for learn only. Many students have one assignment that extends beyond multiple choice.

This means that students need constant feedback. This allows for students to learn from their mistakes as well as provide them with motivation to complete their students. It is not always practical to mark every assignment. A shortcut would be to look at a sample of assignments and explain common errors to the class.

Mix Teaching Styles 

The last useful strategy will help to reduce daydreaming and listlessness. The most common teaching approach is usually lecture or direct-instruction. The problem is that if everyone does this it becomes really boring for any students. Therefore, lecturing is only bad if this is the only instructional model being used.

To maintain engagement means to used different teaching methodologies. While the syllabus should be structured and unchanging good teaching often has a flair and a slight degree of unpredictability that makes the classroom interesting

Conclusion

Teaching at any level is hard. However, classroom management at the university level can be challenging as this is not the most widely discussed topic. For, success a professor needs to commit to the syllabus while being flexible in their delivery of content.

Classroom Management Ideas

One of the greatest challenges in teaching is classroom management. Students are always looking for ways and opportunities to test the limits of acceptable behavior. For teachers, these constant experimentation with the boundaries of how to act are extremely tiresome.

However, there are several strategies that teachers can use to limit poor behavior. Some of these ideas include the following.

  • Setting routines
  • Rehearsing transitions
  • Anticipating behavior
  • Non-Verbal cues

Set Routines

Establishing clear routines will help to regulate the behavior of students tremendously. When everybody knows their role and what to do there is usually less curiosity for a student to see what they can get away with.

Routine need to be explained, demonstrated, and practice in order for students to master them. Once a routine is established most students enjoy the predictability of having set actions that they need to perform and certain times of the day. While instruction should be varied and exciting routines provide a sense of stability and security to brilliant teaching.

Rehearse Transitions

A specific form of routine are transitions. Transitions are those moments in class when you have to move from one activity to another. An example would be going out to recess or coming in from recess, etc.

It is at moments like these that everyone is active. With so many moving parts and actions taking place, this is when the most breakdowns in behavior can often take place. Therefore the teacher needs to be extra diligent during the moments and make sure the routines are thoroughly drilled to avoid near absolute chaos.

Anticipation

Anticipating has to do with seeing what might happen before it actually happens. An analogy would be to an athlete who sees an opportunity to make a great play because of the actions of his opponent. A teacher must be able to read the class and be one-step ahead of the students.

A term related to this is called withitness which means to have a constant awareness of what is happening in the classroom. Or in other words to have eyes in the back of your head. As a teacher gets to know their students it becomes easier to predict their actions and to make adjustments beforehand. This can greatly reduce behavioral problems.

Non-Verbal Cues

Talk is cheap, especially with students. Non-verbal cues save the voice while getting students to do things. Every teacher should have several non-verbal commands that they use in their classroom. Examples may include ways to get the classes attention, to grant permission to go to the bathroom, to give permission get out of one’s seat, etc.

Most classes have a rule for students to raise their hand. However, non-verbal cues should not stop there. The more non-verbal cues the less talking. In addition, non-verbal cues reduce arguing because there were no words exchanged.

Conclusion

Behavior is a challenge but there are ways to overcome at least some of it. Teachers need to consider and employ ways to anticipate and deal with behavioral problems preferably before they become big problems.

Dealing with Classroom Management

Classroom management is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching. Despite the difficulties of behavioral problems, there are several steps teachers can make to mitigate this problem. This post will provide some practical ways to reduce or even eliminate the headache of classroom management.

Deal with the Learning Space

The learning space is another name for the classroom that the teacher has authority over. If a teacher is fortunate enough to have their own classroom (this is not always the case) he or she may need to consider some of the following.

  • A clean, neat, visually appealing classroom helps in settling students.
  • The temperature should be moderate. Too cold or too hot leads to problems
  • The acoustics of the classroom affects performance. If it’s hard to hear each other it makes direct instruction impossible as well as any whole-class discussion. This includes noise coming from outside the classroom

If the teacher does not have their own classroom, he may need to work with the administration or the teachers in whose classroom he teaches to deal with some of these issues.

Dealing with Seating Arrangements

There are essentially four seating arrangements in a classroom

  • Rows
  • Full circle
  • Half circle
  • Groups

Each of these arrangements has there advantages and disadvantages. Rows are used for a teacher-centered classroom and lecture style. They are for individual work as well. However, rows limit interaction among students. Despite this, at the beginning of the year, it may be better to start with rows until a teacher has a handle on the students.

Full/Half circle or great for whole-class discussion. Students are able to all make eye-contact and this helps with supporting a discussion. However, this also makes it hard to concentrate if there is some sort of assignment that needs to be completed. As such, the full/half circle approach is normally used for special occasions.

Groups are used in high interaction settings. In groups, students, can work together on a project or support each other for regular assignments. Normally, groups lead to the largest amount of management problems. As such, groups are great for teachers who have more experience with classroom management.

Dealing with Presence

Presence has to do with the voice and body language of a teacher. Learning to control the voice is a common problem for new teachers and losing one’s voice happens frequently. The voice of a teacher most project without yelling and this requires practice, which can be accelerated through taking voice lessons. Speaking must also be done at a reasonable rate. Too fast or slow will make it hard to pay attention.

The body language of a teacher should project a sense of calm, confidence, and optimism. This can be done by moving about the room while teaching, feigning confidence even if the teacher doesn’t have it, and always maintaining composure no matter what the students do. A teacher losing control of their temper means the students have control and they will enjoy laughing at the one who is supposed to be in control.

Conclusion

Teachers need to exert the authority that they are the leader of the classroom. This requires being organized and confident while having a sense of direction in where the lesson is going. This is not easy but is often necessary when dealing with students.

Grouping Students II: Pros and Cons of Individual Work

There are many different ways in which a teacher can group their students. One option is to have the students work alone. This post will look at the pros and cons of having students work individually.

Pros

Some of the pros of individual learning are the following…

  • Contributes to learner autonomy
  • Responsiveness to individual differences
  • Useful for transitioning from high stress experience

Individual work helps students to develop the capacity to learn without always leaning on others. This can hopefully lead to some sense of learner autonomy, which is a critical goal of many teachers. As students rely on their own resources it strengthens them in learning to learn on their own.

Individual learning is closely related to differentiated instruction. A teacher can plan distinct experiences for each student and respond to the needs of the students personally when individualize learning happens. This catered made experience is critical for many students

After a noisy whole-class or group project experience, individual work can be used as a classroom management tool to calm the students down and transition to another activity. For example, after a science lab activity that has the students out of their sits and talking and moving around, the teacher has them write a reflection about the experience quietly in their seats. The students are reflecting on the experience and they are calmly at their desks. After this, they transition quietly to the next subject. This is preferred instead going from one loud and active activity to the next with some form of cool-off transition.

Cons

Nothing is perfect not even individual learning. Below are some concerns with this approach

  • Lack of social cohesiveness
  • If teaching is individualized as well, it significantly increases the workload of the teacher.

When students work individually they are work alone. This means that there is little social interaction and camaraderie. This can be good or bad depending on the context. In many cultures, extensive individual work is not appropriate as students naturally want to work together. In other settings, it is individual students who struggle with this approach because of their out-going nature.

If the teacher makes an effort to personalize the learning of each student it can increase their workload a great deal. If the class is small it may be doable but in larger classes this could be a nightmare. Individualized instruction is usually the preferred model of teaching but this does not mean that it is the most practical.

Conclusion

All modes of teaching have times when they work and when they do not work. Individualized learning has a place in the classroom. However, it is finding a balance between these various styles that is critical to the success of the learner and the teacher.